Home Manx Life Daniel Radcliffe Clarke – The Bonesetter

Daniel Radcliffe Clarke – The Bonesetter

by Bernadette Weyde

Born in 1841, Daniel Clarke came off old Manx stock, and his family history has many features of interest. As far back as 1515 his ancestors were proprietors of the West Nappin, Jurby. The right of primogeniture, whatever its defects as a system of inheritance, certainly kept estates in the possession of one and the same family. It is not therefore surprising to find the West Nappin passing from father to son in unbroken sequence from the 16th to the 20th century.

Interesting name variations — Clerke, Cleark, Clark occur in the old records, eloquent of the days when every man’s mode of spelling was that which was right in his own eyes.

Clark first appears in the 18th century. Those were the times of big families. William Clark and Mary (nee Munn) his wife, in the late 18th and early 19th century had twenty children. The young chilldren, of whom Daniel Radcliffe Clarke was the eldest, were brought up by their maternal grandparents, Radcliffe, at Farrant ‘s Fort, in Andreas, and it was there that the boy became interested in the art of bonesetting. His grandmother, whose name appears in Mr A. W. Moore’s “Manx Worthies,” was celebrated for her skill in this art. Even when she was over 80 years of age and bed ridden, people were brought to her for treatment. Her grandson inherited her manipulative skill and became so proficient in the art that, on her death in 1862, it was recognised that her mantle had fallen on him. He continued to live at Farrant’s Fort, and married Margaret Ann Corlett. She died in 1871 leaving a daughter named after her.

Towards the end of the 1870s Mr Daniel R. Clarke returned to the home of his ancestors, the West Nappin, and in 1879, at St. Mary’s Church, Bristol, married Celia Knapp, daughter of the Editor of the “Bristol Mercury.” These were days of comparative affluence. Labour was plentiful and cheap, and farming prosperous. He was able to devote much of his time and all of his skill to mending the bruised and broken limbs of those who sought his aid. What he did, he did out of simple kindness of heart and a desire to relieve suffering: he accepted no fee and thought of no reward. His reputation spread, and people from all parts of the Island came to him or sent for him. In his pony and trap he was to be seen travelling one day to Sulby, another day to Peel, another to Bride, on his errands of mercy. His deft hands and sure touch were quick to locate the source of trouble in joint or limb and very rarely did he fail to effect a cure.


He was often able to relieve, and sometimes to cure, sufferers whose fractures had defied the skill of the ordinary practitioner or who had been sent away as hopeless from hospital. Perhaps the most interesting case was that of Thomas Brew, millwright, of St. Jude’s. Andreas. In 1889. when close on 60 years of age, this man had his leg badly fractured in a railway accident. After four months in hospital he was discharged as incurable. No one thought he would ever walk again. Mr Brew’s account of the manner he came by his injury, of his experience in hospital, and of his successful treatment by Mr Clarke, is as follows:—

“On the 28th of September last, I was going, in the evening, along the railway line from Ramsey to Lezayre Station, having some business there to attend to. On my way I was met by a special train coming from Foxdale. It was too dark to see the train. I heard the whistle when I was near Lezayre. I thought it was the whistle of a train coming from Ramsey, and turned my head to look for it. Immediately after I felt the ground shake under me, and saw that a train from the direction of Lezayre was close upon me. I attempted to jump out of the way but I was struck in the thigh by some projecting part of the engine and was knocked clean of the line and fell on the back of my head. When I fell I became insensible and remember no more until I found myself at the Ramsey Station and Dr. Clucas was attending me. My left thigh was very badly fractured and there was a wide and deep wound as if the flesh had been torn by the step or what ever other part of the engine struck me. I wanted to be sent home but they sent me to the Douglas Hospital by the train the next ‘Sunday’ morning.

At the hospital, two doctors examined my injury and set the broken thigh. Shortly after they took their holiday, and two other medical men took charge of my case. One removed the splints in which the broken limb had been placed, substituting another kind, which, I understand, he sent specially to Liverpool for, and I immediately felt relief from the change. I wore these splints till the 1st of November, this doctor calling often to see me and saying I was getting on remarkably well, and should be about in three months. I therefore wrote to several gentlemen for whom I do work, telling them that I should be soon out of the hospital and about my business again.

On the 1st of November, the two doctors I first referred to again took charge of my case. They examined my leg, lifting it up, and then put on their own splits again. I felt very bad at the time and from that time the bone never knit again. I left hospital on the 16th of January. About seven days before I left the hospital, the splints and bandages were taken off and I had to press my hand on my thigh to keep the ends of the broken bone from coming through the skin. My leg got a very dark colour, was much inflamed and it began to swell. The swelling went up my side and I thought my time had come. I wrote to my wife and brothers to take me home, for I wanted to go home to die. I made my will at the hospital, for I thought I only had about three, days to live. My brother Daniel came to Douglas, had a stretcher made for me at Mr Quiggin’s and on this I was taken to the train and brought home. I came home on Thursday the 16th of January.

I was at home for a while without having anyone to attend to me, for I did not wish to be meddled with, wishing to be left in quietness for the few days only which I thought I had to live. My brother Daniel told me I ought to let Mr Clarke, of Nappin, Jurby, see what he could do, for he could do something for me if anyone could. I consented for my brother to go to Mr Clarke and ask him to come to me. Mr Clarke came that night, and in the presence of Parson Kneale (the incumbent of St. Jude’s Chapel of Ease) set my leg, binding it in splints of his own intervention.

He came to see me afterwards once every four days, loosening the splints each time he came, rubbing the thigh with a linament which seemed to give life and warmness to the bone. On the 14th of February, about a fortnight after Mr Clarke had set the broken thigh, I felt the two ends of the broken bone touching, and I began to feel pains at the injured part. “When I told Mr Clarke about these pains he said he was very glad I had begun to feel them because they were the knitting pains. About a week after that time. Mr Clarke told me that the bone was at work, every time he applied the liniment it seemed to penetrate right down the leg and to bring life into the bone.

In six weeks and five days from that time Mr Clarke had me standing on the floor. That was about the 7th or 8th of April. On the11th Mr Clarke came to see me and said I might get up, and there was no occasion for him to attend me any more. From that time until the 28th of April I went about on crutches visiting my neighbours, but on that day Mr Clarke told me I had better rest in bed for a short time as I was making too free in using my leg. I should not myself think it necessary only I have every faith in Mr Clarke and shall lie here till he tells me to get up again, though I can move the leg about now without any pain. I never expected that Mr Clarke would be able to give me the use of my leg as he has done. I just thought I would try him as my brother wished it, but I can’t now sufficienty express by gratitude to him.

I would wish to say that I received every attention at the hospital, and all the officials there were very kind to me. I should tell you that Mr Clarke belongs to a family, the Quine’s of Kana, members of which for several years have been famous for their skill as bone setters. The late Mr Clucas of the Strang, belonged to this family. Mr Clarke is the grandson of Mrs Radcliffe who was famous in this way, and whom I knew well in my younger days, and have assisted her occasionally in setting fractured bones. She saved many a leg from amputation. I will mention one instance.

A farmer named John Crye of Close Andreas, was coming down the mountain with a load of turf when the breech band broke, the cart tipped up and he and his wife were then tipped out. Mrs Crye was killed on the spot, and Mr Crye had his leg very badly fractured. It was broken into a pulp, I might almost say. The doctors said that nothing could be done with it except to take it off. John Crye’s friends would not allow the doctors to take the leg off, and sent for Mrs Radcliffe. She set the leg and made a complete cure of it, so that Crye was able to reap, plough, and work about, just as well as he had done before.”

To enumerate all the cases successfully treated by Mr Clarke from 1862 to 1933 would be no light task. His manipulative skill and his faculty for accurate diagnosis were the chief factors in his success but he was powerfully aided by a liniment which he used. Always a great student of herbs and a great believer in their healing properties, he perfected many experiments of lotion or liniment compounded of herbs, which was eventually registered under the name of Nartoria—a name derived from the Manx word ‘Niart,’ meaning strength. This liniment, though hardly ever advertised publicly, has advertised itself by its remarkable healing and strengthening properties, and requests for it used to reach Mr Clarke not only from the Island, but from England, Scotland, Ireland and the U.S.A. The secrets of successful remedies often perish with their discoverers. In this I case it is not so. Mr Clarke before his death care, fully instructed one of his daughters in the process of its manufacture and now Mr J. B. Quark has the formula.

When the farming industry grew less prosperous in the later part of the 19th century, constant suggestions were made to Mr Clarke that he should charge a fee for giving advice and treatment. Times were bad**; and at length and with great reluctance he consented, but to the end his skill was always freely at the service of the poor.

In 1901 he gave up farming the West Nappin** and came to live at Grove Mount, Ramsey. The death of his wife in 1918 and of his eldest daughter. Margaret, in 1929, fell heavily upon him, especially when these blows were followed by threatened loss of eyesight. Still, his spirit was dauntless. He braved alone the voyage to Liverpool in order to consult an eye specialist. The day he chose was one in the middle of the great frost when the Manx boat was delayed by a blizzard and engine trouble at the mouth of the Mersey and did not reach the landing stage till 6 a.m. At the time of this experience he was approaching his 90th year. The voyage to Liverpool proved unavailing. His sight gradually worsened, and for the last two years of his life he was totally blind. Increasing deafness too made conversation difficult, but up to the last he retained his mental alertness and showed, as always, keen interest in current news.

Mr Clarke had a wonderful memory. There were times when he poured forth a veritable flood of tales and anecdotes. As a boy and young man he lived with people whose everyday speech was Manx, and though he seldom spoke Manx himself, except to illustrate a story or to express something he understood well to his old friends who addressed him in his native tongue. In the give and take of conversation, he showed a keen sense of humour, and could draw upon a store of reminiscences which his hearers found vastly entertaining as they listened to his racy descriptions and hearty laugh.

During the last few years of his life his chief interest was gardening. Even when totally blind he planned out the crops and vegetables to be sown and had a complete mental picture of the way in which the garden was laid out—the vegetable plots and seed beds. Much time and thought were devoted to the methods and processes to be employed, and doubtless the burden of age was lightened by this mental absorption.

Mr Clarke had considerable mental ability, and was able to invent appliances for which he had need. Just before his death he was engaged in a new type of splint. A keen student of the Bible, he was much interested in theological discussions. He took no great part in public life, but at one time was a member of the old School Board at Jurby.

** In January 1901, Daniel Radcliffe Clarke and his wife assigned the whole of their real and personal estate for the general benefit of their creditors. (This must be why they moved to Grove Mount in Ramsey as they had to sell his home at the West Nappin to realise funds. It must also be why people were encouraging him to charge for his services).


Mr. Daniel Radcliffe Clarke, the well known nonogenarian bonesetter, died at his home in Grove Mount, Ramsey, on Tuesday, after an illness, of about a fortnight’s duration. Despite his year – he was approaching 93 – Mr Clarke maintained an active interest in present day affairs almost until the end.

Of late years his eyesight had been failing but when he was 90 years of age he displayed great courage by crossing to Liverpool on a very stormy day to undergo an operation to his eyes.

Mr. Clarke formerly farmed the West Nappin, Jurby, and in 1901 he relinquished farming and went to live in Ramsey. His skill as a bonesetter gave him a reputation throughout the Isle of Man , and even outside the confines of the Isle of Man. Bonesetting was an inherited gift in his case, for his grandmother, Mrs. Radcliffe, of Curragh-Beg, Andreas, is referred to in “Manx Worthies ” as a famous Manx bonesetter.

Mr. Clarke made a liniment preparation of his own called “Nartoria” which was greatly in demand, and many people have benefited from his treatment. He had to his credit a great many cures, and people came to him from all parts of the Island, and, not infrequently, from England, to receive attention for their ailments.

Mr. Clarke was twice married, and leaves the following family surviving:—The Rev. Angus D. Clarke. M.A., Headmaster of Bolton Church Institute; Mrs. R. H. Harwood, of Heathcote, Warwickshire; and Miss Annie C. Clarke, Headmistress of the Church School at Ilmington, Warwickshire.

The funeral took place yesterday afternoon, when the remains of the wonderful old Manxman were laid to rest in Andreas churchyard.

(source: The Courier, 6 Feb 1959; Ramsey Courier, 8 Feb 1901; Examiner 1 Dec 1933 courtesy of MNH at www.imuseum.im; graphic http://bit.ly/1F3jJAX)

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